For Mark Roberts’ Use: It’s an unfortunate fact of life that con artists frequently target retirees for their nefarious activities. As someone who is soon to collect your Social Security benefits in the near future, you make the ideal target for a thief who is willing to commit one act of fraud in exchange for a few thousand dollars.

Here’s how it works: The fraudster accesses your Social Security number, realizes that you haven’t yet claimed Social Security (even though you’re older than 62), and files a false claim in your name. Social Security sends the money to a post office box or a prepaid debit card, and you discover the deception months later when the IRS expects you to pay taxes on benefits you never received! Often the first sign of this theft is a 1099 tax form that arrives in the mail.

It’s happening more and more lately, prompting the Social Security Administration to increase their fraud detection efforts. But until they figure out a way to stop this type of con game, take these five steps to protect yourself.

Guard your Social Security number. Social Security fraud is a type of identity theft, which can’t be perpetrated against you without your Social Security number. Never store your number in unsafe places, and don’t tell anyone your number online or over the phone unless you’re certain that they are an individual qualified to ask about it.

Open all correspondence from Social Security. They will send you a letter when “you” claim your benefits. Unfortunately these letters are often overlooked.

Report suspected fraud to Social Security immediately. If you receive a letter congratulating you for claiming your benefits, or have any other reason to suspect fraud, calll or visit your local office. You’ll receive much faster service this way.

Call the IRS, too. You will be at increased risk of tax fraud if your Social Security number has been stolen.

Check your credit history. Anyone who has stolen your Social Security number can also apply for credit cards in your name. Check your credit report carefully, and report any discrepancies to the credit bureaus.

And of course, keep meeting with us regularly as you plan for the future. We can help you stay on top of your financial situation, and offer tips to protect yourself from unexpected pitfalls of retirement.